Letters for Laos

1. Delicious gruel:

July 6 at 10:04am

Vientiane, Lao PDR: I have checked into a beautiful service apartment and this is my first week in the country. After the day’s work, I went shopping for groceries. My driver took me to “Mumbai Masala” an Indian store run by a wonderful Indian couple from Goa. After years of being ‘waited upon’, it was great to cook dinner for myself.

I threw some long grained fragrant basmati rice (imported from Pakistan), lentils and chopped vegetables into a pot, added some ghee (clarified butter) and made the most delicious-wholesome gruel.

Felt a bit lonely though…

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2. Across my balcony:

Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 10:00pm

Downtown Vientiane: Overlooking my old world wooden balcony, across the street amidst lush green vegetation are two beautiful Buddhist temples and a monastery – charming, quiet and peaceful. I see Monks in flaming orange or deep brown robes silently moving about in slow but confident steps, engaged in their spiritual quest or simply going through their basic daily chores.

On this side of the street, below my service apartment lies a series of road side cafes and restaurants with expatriates and tourists (mainly back packers) from all over the world moving in and out – some hectic, others at a leisurely pace. People of different nationalities, builds, colours, dispositions, dresses etc in sharp contrast to the almost uniform and homogenous world and life of the Monks..

Different people occupying different worlds co-existing next to each other … it is a beautiful world!

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3. Of loveable, grandmotherly vegetable vendors and spinach..

Monday, July 11, 2011 at 11:58pm

Downtown Vientiane: Laos has a an amazingly rich variety of green leafy vegetables. This morning, I bought a rather unusual type of spinach that has a pleasantly mild cilantro flavour to it from the loveable, wrinkly, grandmotherly vendor across the street from my service apartment.

I cooked the chopped spinach with some lentils (moong and masur) and salt. Then I added some beaten yoghurt and seasoned it with cumin, chopped green chillies and fresh ginger, fried in some olive oil. With steamed fragrant Basmati rice (imported from Pakistan), it made a delicious, wholesome, simple vegetarian dinner.

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4. Chhayanat by the Mekong ..

Sunday, July 17, 2011 at 11:39pm

Went out for a jog by the Mekong this evening… After three days of overcast sky and occasional rain, the sky had cleared up. Amidst the wide expanse of the lush greenery, the blue-grey sky, streaks of golden sunlight and the Mekong flowing in its full monsoon grandeur, suddenly there appeared a stunningly beautiful rainbow. A wonderfully crisp and cool monsoon breeze blew gently from the river and I slowed down to a leisurely stroll…

In my MP3 player came to life Ustaad Rashid Khan(1), with his melodious, full bodied voice singing a composition in the evening melody – Chhayanat (2), “Jhanana jhanana-nana baaje bichhhuva” – a lilting composition about the meddling “bichhuva” (anklet) that tinkles at the wrong time, waking everyone up !!

Although a light and earthy composition, I think the skilful use of the Komal Nishad (7 note of the scale) and a hint of Teevra Madhyam (sharp 4th note of the scale) lent an other-worldly dimension to the music … or was it my mind playing its unknown tricks?

My spirit soared like the flock of birds in flight in the distant horizon.. If there was a heaven, it would certainly be made of Ustad-ji’s voice along with the monsoon breeze by the Mekong and that ephemeral rainbow.

  • An eminent Indian Classical vocalist
  • A hepta-tonic classical Indian music raga / scale

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